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Not enough on the plate

india Updated: Sep 26, 2012 22:33 IST

Even before the day ends and you consign this newspaper to the pile of old papers, around 5,000 children below five years would have died in India, not because of any killer disease(s) but largely due to preventable causes.

Lack of food and proper diet are responsible for this dismal figure even when preventing under-nutrition is far easier - and effective - than trying to treat malnourished children. It is a pity that thousands of children die every single day in a country whose National Nutrition Mission is headed by none other than the prime minister himself.

To figure out what is lacking in India's fight against malnutrition, two non-profit organisations - World Vision and Save the Children - have launched a 'Nutrition Barometer' that assesses governments' political, legal and financial commitments towards tackling the scourge in the 36 countries which are home to 90% of the world's undernourished children.

The report, released yesterday at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, builds on existing indices such as the Global Hunger Index produced by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Hunger Reduction Commitment Index released by the Institute of Development Studies

Despite strong economic growth in the past few years, India is at the bottom of the list. At the other end of the spectrum lies Peru that has shown strong political resolve and an unshakable commitment towards growing resources to fight child under-nutrition.

This has ensured positive results. India's performance is similar to that of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Yemen, which, too, are among the weakest performers in this area thanks to frail commitments resulting in grim results. India's neighbouring nations - Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh - have fared better than it.

In India, child under-nutrition levels are alarmingly high and persistent - around 42% according to the last official survey in 2005-06. This is due to inadequate spending on health and nutrition, wide economic and social inequality and weak political commitment.

India is beginning its 12th Five Year Plan and this is the right time to invest in strong strategies on nutrition, backed by sustained and long-term investments to tackle the challenge.

Food intervention alone may not return the desired results; there has to be a 'life-cycle' approach towards tackling malnutrition, which must begin with the health of a woman before pregnancy, address all problems at the various critical stages during the birth of a child and finally ensure the healthy growth of the baby.

India already has a structure in place. It just needs to re-energise this sector if it wants to tackle the challenge sincerely.